The True Story Behind Truman Capote’s Ashes Being Auctioned Off on ‘Feud’

The last scandalous reveal in Ryan Murphy’s docudrama “Feud: Capote vs. The Swans” was far more surprising than any of the gossip-filled tales penned by Truman Capote (played by Tom Hollander). The final twist came 32 years after his death when a longtime confidant, Joanne Carson (played in the drama by Molly Ringwald), decided to auction off the writer’s remains to the highest bidder.

In the finale, the last moments of Capote’s life show him floating in and out of consciousness. Excommunicated from New York, after penning several stories exposing his socialite friends’ darkest secrets, and banished to Los Angeles, Capote seeks refuge in the home of Carson. And it is in that room that Capote takes his last breaths, asking for his mother and “beautiful babe,” aka Barbara Paley (played by Naomi Watts).

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FX’s FEUD: Capote Vs. The Swans "Beautiful Babe" -- Episode 7 --  Airs Wednesday, March 6 at 10 p.m. ET/PT -- Pictured: (l-r) Tom Hollander as Truman Capote, Molly Ringwald as Joanne Carson. CR: FX
Tom Hollander as Truman Capote, Molly Ringwald as Joanne Carson.

The series then jumps forward to the year 2016, Carson has also passed and her estate auction is in progress. The auctioneer informs the crowd of a “very unusual item,” a wooden box of Capote’s ashes. Aghast, the ghosts of his swans (dressed all in white) watch over the spectacle as the remains sell for close to $44,000. Calling the world “graceless,” the horrified spirits ultimately decide they should depart to lunch at the big Polo Lounge in the sky. End scene.

As wild as this all sounds, one plot point in this conclusion is entirely accurate: Truman Capote’s ashes were, in fact, sold on the auction block after Carson’s death, according to executive director and co-founder of Julien’s Auctions Martin Nolan.

“I met Joanne Carson in her home when she was alive,” said Nolan to Variety. “A lovely lady and an interesting lady. When she passed away, she chose Julien’s to handle her estate auction, which included her portion of Truman Capote’s ashes in a Japanese wooden, hand-carved container in 2016.”

The ashes were a source of constant comfort for Carson who brought them with her everywhere she went. “She would travel with them because she felt [Capote] was her friend and she was continuing to take care of him and befriend him and be a friend to him.”

According to Nolan, Carson left several of Capote’s belongings inside the room where he died, including his chair and typewriter. “She kept everything like it was when he lived there.”

Unfortunately for Carson, the box with Capote’s remains was stolen from her home two separate times. “She used to have it outside in her yard in the patio garden area,” Nolan said. “And at a party one night, it was stolen, but I think people just took it for a gag. It was distressing for her, but she got it back.”

However, Nolan does not see Carson’s plans for her portion of Capote’s remains as anything other than a sign of a good friend. “She remained a loyal friend even after her own demise,” Nolan said. “She made sure his ashes would go to a new home. It wouldn’t just be dispersed or thrown out with other items that would be discarded.”

That being said there was definitely a discussion at Julian’s over the moral dilemma of auctioning off Capote’s remains. “We had an ethical moral decision to make: ‘Do we really want to sell somebody’s ashes?’ And at the same time we thought, ‘Hey, you know what? Truman Capote would absolutely love this if he was here. He would be writing about it.'”

Ultimately, the auctioneers decided not to advertise this as a marquee item lot and instead folded it into Carson’s overall collection that was up for sale. But naturally, the item garnered a tremendous amount of press. However, it is worth noting that the ashes in question were only Carson’s portion, a large amount of Capote’s remains were also interred in the Los Angeles cemetery Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park & Mortuary.

The sale of a box containing human ashes isn’t entirely out-of-the-ordinary for Julien’s Auctions. “We’ve sold unusual things,” Nolan said. “Like William Shatner’s kidney stone, because at Julien’s, we leave no stone unturned.”

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